Height Analysis Of Rio Swimming Finalists



Editorial Coverage Sponsored By FINIS

Commentary by Coach Rick Madge

During every Olympics a lot of attention is paid to the height of swimmers and how tall they’re getting. So now that the Olympics are over, it’s a perfect time to crunch the numbers.

This analysis includes the average, shortest and tallest heights of every final for 2016, as well as the average heights for 2012. The averages give us a decent amount of data for comparison, while the shortest and tallest heights help us determine the envelope of elite swimming.

We’ll first look at the average heights for Olympic finalists for 2012 and 2016.


2012 Average: 74.1 inches (6’2.1″ or 1.882 m)

2016 Average: 74.2 inches (6’2.2″ or 1.884 m)


2012 Average: 69.4 inches (5’9.4″ or 1.762 m)

2016 Average: 69.1 inches (5’9.1″ or 1.755 m)

In other words, the overall average heights haven’t really changed in the last 4 years. For men, the average height of finalists is 6’2″ and for women it’s 5’9″.

However, that’s the average for all distances and strokes. We really need to break this down further to see how average heights change for different events .


Photo Courtesy:

A few points stick out here. Not surprisingly the 50 and 100 female swimmers tend to be taller than 200 and 400 swimmers. But it’s a bit of a surprise to find that 800 swimmers are as tall as the 200 and 400 swimmers. This is true for both Olympics.

Next, we see that there were height drops from 2012 to 2016 in the 50, 400 and 800 distances. There’s no apparent explanation for this, but the change in height is real and relatively substantial, especially for the 400 swimmers.

M Ht Distance

Photo Courtesy: Rick Madge

For the men it’s clear that there are only small differences between the average heights 2012 and 2016 for all distances. We can also see an expected result that 50 swimmers are the tallest (allowing for greater muscle mass for the larger anaerobic component of the race), followed by the 100 swimmers as the next tallest. However, unlike the distance women, the male 1500 swimmers were not as tall as the sprinters.

We also see that, like the women, the 400 male swimmers were the shortest of the bunch.

Next, we’ll look at the breakdown by stroke.


Photo Courtesy: Rick Madge

The differences here between for the women in the two Olympics are fairly small, although we do see a bit of a drop for Breaststroke. As expected, we can also see that the long axis stroke, Free and Back are taller than the rest. IM is decidedly the shortest, being 2-3 inches shorter than the sprinters.

M Ht Stroke

Photo Courtesy: Rick Madge

For the men, we see similarities in strokes between the two Olympics, other than a noticeable spike in average height for the 2016 Breaststrokers. And like the women the Free swimmers are the tallest, and the IM swimmers are the shortest. However, for the men, the Backstrokers are noticeably shorter than the Freestylers.

Finally, we’ll look at the shortest and tallest swimmers who made finals.

Women: Shortest 5’1.5″, Tallest 6’3″

Men: Shortest 5’6″, Tallest 6’7″

These heights clearly show that short swimmers are making Olympic finals.

For information on the height range for different events, you can visit coachrickswimming.com.

Rick Madge writes the coachrickswimming.com blog, and is head coach of the Mighty Tritons Aquatic Club in Milton, Ontario, Canada.

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7 years ago

Who is the 4’11” woman who made finals??

Taylor Brien
7 years ago

According to the Rio database and Swimming Canada’s database Kierra Smith, who finished seventh in the 200 breaststroke, is approximately 4’11”.

7 years ago


Kierra Smith
Kierra Smith
7 years ago

I guess I’ve grown 9 inches since they measured me last. Wonder what they have my weight listed at? #notobsessed but hoping for sub 100 ☺

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